Sex and Journalism

by Christopher Harper | July 10th, 2018

Readability

Sex and Journalism

The embat­tled reporter at The New York Times who had an inti­mate rela­tion­ship with a top Sen­ate staffer was one of my students.

After a quick rise through the ranks of jour­nal­ism, Ali Watkins was demoted last week for hav­ing the affair.

I didn’t know her well, but she struck me as ener­getic and intel­li­gent, with per­haps a bit too much snark­i­ness. She appeared to be a reporter with a promis­ing career ahead of her.

What she did was wrong. You don’t have sex with a poten­tial source. Ever. [Note: She denies that the Sen­ate staffer was a source.]

But hypocrisy oozed from the cov­er­age of the affair, par­tic­u­larly when you take a look at other promi­nent jour­nal­ists who may have slept their way to the top.

Judith Miller, a promi­nent mem­ber of DaTimes until she got fired for mak­ing stuff up, often quoted her live-​in lover, the late Les Aspin, who served as Bill Clinton’s sec­re­tary of defense. Miller’s affaris were so widely known that one col­league referred to her bed­sheets as her notebook.

But there’s a lot more.

Matt Cooper, who worked in high-​level posi­tions at sev­eral news orga­ni­za­tions, mar­ried Mandy Grun­wald, a long­time media adviser to the Clintons.

Chris­tiane Aman­pour, CNN’s chief inter­na­tional reporter, began dat­ing James Rubin, assis­tant sec­re­tary of state for pub­lic affairs, in 1997. They got mar­ried the next year.

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News’ for­eign affairs reporter, dated Fed­eral Reserve Chair­man Alan Greenspan for 12 years before they got married.

Here in Philadel­phia, news anchor Renee Chenault is mar­ried to Chaka Fat­tah, a long­time con­gress­man who was con­victed of cor­rup­tion in 2016.

Each reporter should have been at least rep­ri­manded or per­haps faced more seri­ous con­se­quences for these rela­tion­ships. Also, the audi­ence should have been told repeat­edly about these con­flicts of inter­est. Nei­ther happened.

I doubt that any of these peo­ple have a note in their per­son­nel files about these inap­pro­pri­ate relationships.

What’s also dis­turb­ing about the Watkins’ case is that sev­eral employ­ers knew about her eth­i­cal breech, but no one told her to stop it.

That doesn’t in any way mit­i­gate what she did. In my view, she should have been fired long before she got to DaTimes.

Nev­er­the­less, after numer­ous prob­lems from Brian Williams to Rolling Stone, this recent eth­i­cal breech under­lines how morally chal­lenged jour­nal­ism is.

The embattled reporter at The New York Times who had an intimate relationship with a top Senate staffer was one of my students.

After a quick rise through the ranks of journalism, Ali Watkins was demoted last week for having the affair.

I didn’t know her well, but she struck me as energetic and intelligent, with perhaps a bit too much snarkiness. She appeared to be a reporter with a promising career ahead of her.

What she did was wrong. You don’t have sex with a potential source. Ever. [Note: She denies that the Senate staffer was a source.]

But hypocrisy oozed from the coverage of the affair, particularly when you take a look at other prominent journalists who may have slept their way to the top.

Judith Miller, a prominent member of DaTimes until she got fired for making stuff up, often quoted her live-in lover, the late Les Aspin, who served as Bill Clinton’s secretary of defense. Miller’s affaris were so widely known that one colleague referred to her bedsheets as her notebook.

But there’s a lot more.

Matt Cooper, who worked in high-level positions at several news organizations, married Mandy Grunwald, a longtime media adviser to the Clintons.

Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international reporter, began dating James Rubin, assistant secretary of state for public affairs, in 1997. They got married the next year.

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News’ foreign affairs reporter, dated Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan for 12 years before they got married.

Here in Philadelphia, news anchor Renee Chenault is married to Chaka Fattah, a longtime congressman who was convicted of corruption in 2016.

Each reporter should have been at least reprimanded or perhaps faced more serious consequences for these relationships. Also, the audience should have been told repeatedly about these conflicts of interest. Neither happened.

I doubt that any of these people have a note in their personnel files about these inappropriate relationships.

What’s also disturbing about the Watkins’ case is that several employers knew about her ethical breech, but no one told her to stop it.

That doesn’t in any way mitigate what she did. In my view, she should have been fired long before she got to DaTimes.

Nevertheless, after numerous problems from Brian Williams to Rolling Stone, this recent ethical breech underlines how morally challenged journalism is.

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